A German civil servant may have found the secret to getting people to
switch to Linux: stuffed penguins and powerful women.
Like other governments worldwide, the council of the small German city of
Schwabisch Hall decided to ditch Microsoft software in favor of open
source, back in late 2002.
On Wednesday, Horst Brauner,
the civil servant responsible for implementing the migration, revealed the
tactics used to cure Schwabisch Hall council workers of their reluctance to make
the switch to desktop Linux.
Speaking at the Open Source for Local Government conference in London,
Brauner explained that some users were afraid the deployment of Linux was part
of a secret plan to read everyone's e-mail, record all their keystrokes and
monitor their surfing habits.
"I became the most hated person in the municipality, but hey, that's usual,"
joked Brauner. "So, to people who didn't like it I gave away Linux T-shirts and
Other users were upset that they could no longer run the front cover CD-ROMs
from their favorite computer magazines at work, or keep their old screensavers.
These feelings were assuaged, Brauner says, once it became clear that games did
run on Linux and that people could still use their work PC for private use.
Once the migration was complete, though, there were concerns that the
open-source software would be harder to use than Windows. Again, Schwabisch Hall
had a solution.
"We put the chairwoman of our workers' council on stage in front of all the
municipal workers, and showed her using the new system. After that, we found
that no man would say that he couldn't use his PC now that everyone knew a woman
could do it," revealed Brauner.
Schwabisch Hall was the first German city to abandon Windows in favor of open
source. It was soon followed by Munich, and on
Tuesday, the German Federal Finance Office signed up with Linux--a deal thought
to be one of the largest Linux-based mainframe deployments in Europe.
The Schwabisch Hall information technology infrastructure is spread across 11
sites in the city. The city migrated all its more than 400 workstations, of
which 325 are networked across a high-speed fiber-optic network owned by the
There were several motives behind Schwabisch Hall's pioneering move to Linux.
One factor was cost, after the IT budget was dramatically cut between 2001 and
2002. Another was a push for better security, while a third was to escape from
the treadmill of vendor-driven upgrades.
Debating open source
Tuesday's conference was attended by a swath
of local council IT staff. Some appeared to be keen on Linux, while others were
more skeptical about the idea of open source.
Tim Dawes, director of Ninevah Consulting--which organized the
conference--urged delegates to explore the possibilities presented by Linux. He
said that with big IT firms such as IBM backing Linux, the operating system
shouldn't be seen as a tool only for geeks, and that the technical challenge
posed in migrating to and supporting Linux shouldn't be beyond an IT
Dawes also pointed out that users might be cross that their work computer ran
Linux if their home PC was still on Windows, but insisted that this was a boon
to network security.
"Your next network infection could be coming from their home PC," Dawes said.
Brauner agrees that Linux's security is a massive benefit to system
"Private screensavers and computer magazine CDs might not work in Linux, but
on the other hand the MyDoom virus doesn't either," Brauner
told the conference.
Tuesday, Microsoft issued a patch for a vulnerability in its Windows
software that could be used to unleash a virus even more devastating than
MyDoom. This patch should be installed by anyone running Windows NT, Windows
2000, Windows XP or Windows Server 2003.
Graeme Wearden of ZDNet
UK reported from London.